Atrogin-1 Affects Muscle Protein Synthesis and Degradation When Energy Metabolism Is Impaired by the Antidiabetes Drug Berberine

  1. Zhaoyong Hu5
  1. 1Renal Division, Jimin Hospital, Shanghai, People's Republic of China;
  2. 2Renal Division, Shenjing Hospital of China Medical University, Shenyang, Liaoning, People's Republic of China;
  3. 3Renal Unit, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts;
  4. 4Department of Nephrology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts;
  5. 5Renal Division, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.
  1. Corresponding author: Zhaoyong Hu, zhaoyonh{at}
  1. H.W. and D.L. contributed equally to this article.


OBJECTIVE Defects in insulin/IGF-1 signaling stimulate muscle protein loss by suppressing protein synthesis and increasing protein degradation. Since an herbal compound, berberine, lowers blood levels of glucose and lipids, we proposed that it would improve insulin/IGF-1 signaling, blocking muscle protein losses.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS We evaluated whether berberine ameliorates muscle atrophy in db/db mice, a model of type 2 diabetes, by measuring protein synthesis and degradation in muscles of normal and db/db mice treated with or without berberine. We also examined mechanisms for berberine-induced changes in muscle protein metabolism.

RESULTS Berberine administration decreased protein synthesis and increased degradation in muscles of normal and db/db mice. The protein catabolic mechanism depended on berberine-stimulated expression of the E3 ubiquitin ligase, atrogin-1. Atrogin-1 not only increased proteolysis but also reduced protein synthesis by mechanisms that were independent of decreased phosphorylation of Akt or forkhead transcription factors. Impaired protein synthesis was dependent on a reduction in eIF3-f, an essential regulator of protein synthesis. Berberine impaired energy metabolism, activating AMP-activated protein kinase and providing an alternative mechanism for the stimulation of atrogin-1 expression. When we increased mitochondrial biogenesis by expressing peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor γ coactivator-1α, berberine-induced changes in muscle protein metabolism were prevented.

CONCLUSIONS Berberine impairs muscle metabolism by two novel mechanisms. It impairs mitochonidrial function stimulating the expression of atrogin-1 without affecting phosphorylation of forkhead transcription factors. The increase in atrogin-1 not only stimulated protein degradation but also suppressed protein synthesis, causing muscle atrophy.


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  1. Diabetes vol. 59 no. 8 1879-1889
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